Remembering Doug Tompkins, Who Helped Save 11M Acres of Chilean Wilderness

The North Face founder died two years ago today

December 8, 2017 9:00 am

If you don’t think that hard work lives on after death, consider Doug Tompkins.

For those who don’t know, Tompkins founded The North Face and Esprit and was an avid outdoorsman who spent five months a year kayaking, climbing and skiing for the better part of his 72 years on this green earth. He passed two years ago today, but his legacy lives on in the form of 11 million acres of Chilean wilderness that were designated as National Parks this past spring, protected now until forever.

This wilderness represents one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, home to rainforests, high desert plains, volcanoes, mountains and meadows. The parks — there are 17 in total, including five new ones — were aided by a tremendous donation from The Tompkins Foundation, the environmental nonprofit started by the late Doug Tompkins and his wife, Kristine McDivitt, the former CEO of Patagonia.

Their foundation does everything from assembling conservation projects to educating governments and local communities on how to maintain their natural resources. It’s been estimated that their donation contributed $270 million dollars to the Chilean economy, as well as add 40,000 jobs for locals, all without logging trees or damming rivers.

The 11 million acres puts Chile on par with Costa Rica for nations with exceptionally large swaths of protected land. For a perspective on just how large this area is, it’s roughly equal to Denmark. If you were to put it in a U.S. state, the nearly 17,000 square miles would fill half of South Carolina.

So it’s big.

The tract will reverse developmental mining, reforest previously deforested areas, and conserve the still-untouched parts. This was no easy feat. As Forbes reported in March, the Chilean government long thought the Tompkins were CIA spies on a mission to split the country. But Tompkins and McDivitt persisted, earning popular support by interacting with locals and campaigning for change throughout the region.

Doug died tragically from hypothermia in 2015 while on a canoe trip with his long-time friend and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.

But he walked the walk right up until to the end, and that’s probably the best thing you can say about a person.


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